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NOAA Ocean Explorer

National Marine Sanctuaries

National Undersea Research Program

Ocean explorations that have taken place in whole, or in part, within national marine sanctuaries and ecological reserves

Exploring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands - Ho'ohuli

Steamship Portland

Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats

Sanctuary Quest

Monitor Expedition 2002

Sustainable Seas Expeditions

Islands in the Stream 2002

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Preserving the USS Monitor

Islands in the Stream

Thunder Bay ECHO

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Ocean Exploration

Giant anemone at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Giant anemone (Condylactis gigantea) in deeper waters at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. In other areas of the Caribbean, this species is found in shallow areas. The reason for this difference is unknown.

The deep ocean holds many mysteries that researchers have only just begun to recognize. New technologies and tools have allowed scientists to explore areas of the deep ocean never before accessed, and they have found hundreds of new species and even new ecosystems. Yet, much of the world’s oceans remain unexplored.

Authorizing Mandate

In June 2000, the President directed the Secretary of Commerce to convene an Ocean Exploration Panel, composed of ocean explorers, researchers, and marine educators. The panel developed a national strategy for exploring the oceans. The report, Discovering Earth’s Final Frontier: A U.S. Strategy for Ocean Exploration, details recommendations for establishing and promoting an interagency, multidisciplinary Ocean Exploration Program that is global in scope but concentrated in U.S. waters. The panel recommended that NOAA take charge of the endeavor.

USS Monitor turret

The USS Monitor’s gun turret breaks the surface for the first time in 140 years during the Monitor Expedition of 2002. Raising the turret involved several years of planning and hundreds of participants.

In response, NOAA created the Office of Ocean Exploration (OOE) to lead the effort. OOE is a major program office within NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. OOE coordinates the agency’s exploration efforts and facilitates research expeditions. Most cruises to date have been multidisciplinary endeavors conducted in conjunction with such organizations as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, and many academic institutions. OOE partners with several NOAA offices and programs, including the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS)helps to plan explorations that take place within the nation's 13 national marine sanctuaries and one ecological research reserve. In addition, NOS directs and maintains official Web site for these explorations, NOAA Explorer. This offering serves as an archive of the exploration program, chronicling of the missions with detailed daily logs, informative essays, and rich multimedia offerings. It offers over 130 hands-on, standards-based lesson and a curriculum based on the explorations.

Porpida porpida, a free-floating marine organism related to jellyfish

Porpida porpida has a small disc-like body and floats freely in the water column. Related to the jellyfish, it measures just one inch in diameter. The sample was obtained during the 2002 Islands in the Stream exploration.

Ocean Exploration in the National Ocean Service

Since the inception of the NOAA Ocean Exploration Program in 2001, the nation’s marine sanctuaries have been the site of many important expeditions. Exploration teams have visited sanctuaries in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes to study and map historic shipwrecks, characterize benthic habitats, increase our understanding of deep water corals and seamounts, and appreciate the interconnectedness of, and threats to, the marine environment.

Recent accomplishments include the recovery of the historic turret and engine of the Civil War ironclad, the USS Monitor from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary off Cape Hatteras, NC, discovery of many 19th century shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron, Mich., and a detailed survey of the Steamship Portland, an ill-fated passenger ship lost in 1898 in what is now the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the Massachusetts coast.

Native Americans at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

The Olympic Coast, home of the Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Quinault nations and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, features some of the most pristine coastline in the lower 48 states. (Photo: Robert Steelquist, OCNMS).

In 2001 and 2002, multidisciplinary teams traveled through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast to explore protected and unprotected deep water coral reefs and hard-bottom communities. This mission passed through the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at the southern tip of Florida, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off of Georgia.

On the west coast, explorers have documented the cultural links of the Northwest Coast Native Americans and First Nations to the marine environment in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off of Washington. Teams also conducted research, exploration, and monitoring along the California coastline in Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries.